Former captain Michael Clarke urged a furious sporting public today to forgive Steve Smith over the cheating scandal that has plunged Australian cricket into crisis.
He said Australia needed to move on from the anger over Smith's ball-tampering plot in the third Test against South Africa and work on restoring the sport's battered reputation.
But Clarke acknowledged many fans would struggle to find sympathy for Smith over his role in a plan to have batsman Cameron Bancroft change the condition of the ball by illegally rubbing it with sticky yellow paper.
"I do feel for Steve Smith. 100 percent he has made a major mistake and he and a lot of other people I think are going to have to suffer the consequences," Clarke told Channel Seven.
"That's fair enough. But I think it's important that we do over time forgive as well."
Australian cricket fans have long regarded the national team's style as hard but fair, even though many take issue with the boorish behaviour of some players in recent years.
The admission that an Australian Test captain helped hatch a premeditated plan to cheat, and the clumsy cover-up attempt that followed, has prompted genuine shock among cricket lovers.
Clarke, who handed over the captaincy to Smith in 2015, said changes needed to be implemented for the good of the game.
"When I woke up this morning a couple of things really stood in my mind -- this can never happen again," he said.
"I think that has to be Cricket Australia's focus, this can never, ever happen again in this great game of cricket.
"We have so much work to do to get cricket back to where it belongs."
High and mighty hypocrites
Clarke has likened the ball-tampering affair to "a bad dream" and cricketing greats have slammed Smith and his team-mates for bringing the game into disrepute.
However, there have been some calls for perspective, including former New Zealand batsman Mark Richardson, who said interference to make the ball reverse swing was common in his playing days.
"It's very, very difficult to go to a former cricketer and get him to be totally outraged about ball-tampering because it would quickly make people hypocrites," the player turned television host told TV3.
"There was a time where we all were trying to work out how the heck you do this," he added, saying he did not remember tampering with the ball in an international match.
Richardson said the extreme reaction was because Australians in the past were quick to make cheating accusations while casting themselves as paragons.
Ex-England captain Michael Atherton, while criticising Smith, has also questioned whether ball-tampering deserved its reputation as a major sin.
"It has gone on since the year dot," said the former opener, who faced tampering allegations himself in 1994 when he rubbed dirt from his pocket on the ball during a Test against South Africa at Lord's.
"If the condition of the ball is changed, you get a five-run penalty and change the ball. That hardly sends the message that this is a heinous crime."
He told Sky Sport that ball-tampering was rated a level two offence under current laws but authorities should make it a top-of-the-scale level four if they felt it was so serious. —AFP